Microbial competition reduces metabolic interaction distances to the low µm-range

Rinke J. van Tatenhove-Pel, Tomaž Rijavec, Aleš Lapanje, Iris van Swam, Emile Zwering, Jhonatan A. Hernandez-Valdes, Oscar P. Kuipers, Cristian Picioreanu, Bas Teusink, Herwig Bachmann

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Scopus citations


Metabolic interactions between cells affect microbial community compositions and hence their function in ecosystems. It is well-known that under competition for the exchanged metabolite, concentration gradients constrain the distances over which interactions can occur. However, interaction distances are typically quantified in two-dimensional systems or without accounting for competition or other metabolite-removal, conditions which may not very often match natural ecosystems. We here analyze the impact of cell-to-cell distance on unidirectional cross-feeding in a three-dimensional aqueous system with competition for the exchanged metabolite. Effective interaction distances were computed with a reaction-diffusion model and experimentally verified by growing a synthetic consortium of 1 µm-sized metabolite producer, receiver, and competitor cells in different spatial structures. We show that receivers cannot interact with producers located on average 15 µm away from them, as product concentration gradients flatten close to producer cells. We developed an aggregation protocol and varied the receiver cells’ product affinity, to show that within producer–receiver aggregates even low-affinity receiver cells could interact with producers. These results show that competition or other metabolite-removal of a public good in a three-dimensional system reduces metabolic interaction distances to the low µm-range, highlighting the importance of concentration gradients as physical constraint for cellular interactions.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)688-701
Number of pages14
JournalISME Journal
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 1 2021
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Generated from Scopus record by KAUST IRTS on 2022-09-13

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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